THE HISTORY OF ASHLAND
With the beginning of the Baltimore and Susquehanna Railroad in 1828, industry boomed along the Gunpowder River. In 1844, the Ashland Iron Works commenced operations with the building of its first furnace about 16 miles north of Baltimore City. Ashland was named for the Kentucky estate of Henry Clay, a prominent statesman of the period. A second furnace was completed in 1847. The iron works prospered during this time and throughout the Civil War period. The advent of railroads contributed to the boom days of iron manufacturing. Originally the Ashland Iron Works produced about 10 tons of pig iron per day. By 1864, with the completion of a third, larger furnace capable of producing 50 tons per day itself, Ashland had become one of the top producers of pig iron in the country.
At the height of its operation, the Ashland Iron Works employed more than 200 workers. Many of them had emigrated from Ireland, Germany and Italy to escape from famine and military service. The men worked 12 hour shifts for $1.00-$1.50 per day. The furnaces ran 24 hours per day. Company officials owned the town and rented houses to their employees for $1.50-$2.50 per month.
The company also built a one-room school house and a Presbyterian church for the use of the workers. $1.00 per month per child was deducted from the worker's salaries to pay for their children's education.
The development of the Bessemer steel process in 1866 spelled the end of pig iron and the Ashland Iron Works closed for good in 1884. Renovated 1860 era buildings that can still be seen on Ashland Road include the general store, post office, iron works office, stone row and schoolhouse.
LIFE AT ASHLAND IRON WORKS
Life in Ashland during the 19th century was hard. There was nothing easy about manufacturing iron. Workers had 12 hour shifts every day of the week except Sunday. Their only holiday was Christmas. The ore was mined using pick and shovel and the conditions were detrimental to the workers health. Smoke that didn't escape thru the stacks swirled around the workers as they pushed coal loaded carts along a platform towards the furnace.
All employees of Ashland Iron Works lived in this community. Conditions were crowded. Two families lived in each of the Stone Row houses. The workers had to abide by a strict code of living. A worker would be fired if he were found in possession of liquor, quarreled, owned a dog, left the community without permission or owned a gun. Workers were not allowed to make a purchase outside the company store, where anything they bought would be deducted from their pay. Around 1860 the average salary for the month was $25.00.
WHAT IS PIG IRON?
In the days of yore, American colonies produced 1/7th of the worlds iron supply, with Maryland leading the way. The iron business was at it's peak in 1864. The demand for pig iron was too high for the two furnaces, so a third stack was built.
There was a hole at the bottom of each furnace that could be opened by removing hard clay, which acted as a door. The mold used channels and grooves that resembled the outlined of a sow with suckling pigs. Hot iron poured into a gutter-like space before being distributed into eight sows. From there it was poured into pigs, which were three feet long. Each pig weighed about 90 pounds. Twenty four pigs could be filled from each sow. The most productive of the furnaces could produce 18 tons of pig iron per day.
The iron was used for train railings, buildings and engine parts. It is believed the wrought iron railings and gate around the Baltimore County Court House in Towson were made from the stacks at Ashland.
TALES FROM THE PAST - The Fearless Mr. Atkinson
During the Civil War the Gilmore's, a prominent Baltimore family, hired a band of outlaws to assist the Confederate army. The bandits were sent to plunder the countryside and give the spoils to the Southerners.
Mr. Gilmore found out that the Ashland Iron Works was selling considerable amounts of iron to the Union army. He ordered the bandits to go to Ashland and threaten to destroy the stacks and houses if a ransom wasn't paid. The Ashland ironworkers sent word about the threat to the wealthy Smith family, who owned the furnaces. When the Smith's learned of the threat they were hesitant to give in to blackmail and did not pay the ransom on time. In response, the bandits drove out all but one of the inhabitants of Ashland; Mr. Atkinson. He was a man in his later years and hard of hearing. Before the outlaws sacked the town the Smith's had a change of heart and decided to pay the ransom. The bandits left without a shot being fired. The locals did not know of the pay off and credited Mr. Atkinson with saving the town.
TALES FROM THE PAST - The Ghost of William Burns
In the younger years of Ashland, one particular ghost story went from person to person like a contagious germ. The man's name was William Burns. He was a worker at Ashland Iron Works many, many years ago. It was his job to drill holes into the deposits at the bottom of the furnace. He would then set dynamite into the holes to break up the accretion. On one fateful day the charge didn't go off. Confused, Burns reentered the furnace to find out the problem. You can guess what happened next. He is now the ghost of Ashland. Of couse, no one really knows why ghosts stay around or even exist but perhaps William Burns felt duty bound to finish his job. Can you still hear him hammering away into the night?
TALES FROM THE PAST - The Furrier Mano Swartz
For about 30 years, a prominent Baltimore furrier Mano Swartz owned Ashland. He had good relations with the few tenants who were living here after the iron mill closed. Rents were low and the maintenance on these historic houses was lower still. Out houses were in use as late as 1984. Being on the Loch Raven watershed, the sanitiation department required a sewer system be installed. At that time the Swartz family put Ashland up for sale. Kimberly Strutt bought Ashland in 1984 and developed the community into what it is today.